The captain of a Coast Guard patrol boat was arrested on Tuesday to face questioning over the maritime police's botched initial response to April's ferry sinking that claimed more than 300 lives, prosecutors said.
The chief of the Mokpo Coast Guard's patrol boat, called the 123, has come under fire for failing to move swiftly to save more lives even though it was the first ship that arrived at the scene after the Sewol ferry sank in waters off the southwestern island of Jindo on April 16.
The captain, identified as a 53-year-old police lieutenant surnamed Kim, was specifically charged with damaging and falsifying public records, according to officials at the Gwangju District Prosecutors' Office.
Kim is suspected of removing part of work records written on the day of the ferry sinking and filing in new content possibly from fears that his rescue team's poor initial response would be disclosed, prosecutors said.
After questioning the officer over the motive of such behavior and whether there were more officers involved in the suspected crime, the authority will decide whether to seek a court-issued warrant to officially detain him on Wednesday, they said.
The patrol boat then had 13 rescue officials on board, including the chief. According to witnesses, however, the rescuers were busy picking up people who jumped into the sea to escape the sinking ferry while doing nothing to rescue passengers locked inside the ship.
Prosecutors said they are considering additionally charging Kim with accidental homicide if he is found to be responsible for the poor initial rescue operations.
The arrest came a week after all 13 members of the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) on Jindo Island were indicted on charges of neglecting their duty of properly monitoring the ferry as it sailed nearby.
Of the Sewol ferry's some 476 passengers, mostly high school students, a total of 294 people have been confirmed dead, with 10 others still unaccounted for. (Yonhap)